This project seems to be going on for a long time due to my uncooperative body and the incessant rain. So I'll post what I have so far and add to it when the backrest is complete. This is the first time I've made a backrest so please don't take this as hard and fast instructions. I read what I could (not much available but there was some at Plains Indian Seminar II) and looked at a lot of pictures online and in various books that I have. This one became my major inspiration:
It's from a book put out by the Glenbow Museum entitled "Honouring Tradition: Reframing Native Art". The caption reads as follows:
Artist Not Known
Kainai, early 20th centurywillow, cloth, glass beads
(note that Kainai is Blackfoot for the Blood Tribe of the Blackfoot Confederacy)
I gathered the willow rods in early May, which was actually too early for this part of the country as the sap wasn't up yet. I gathered Sandbar Willow mostly, but other types of willow I'm sure would work equally well. I was wishing for one of Eric's leather contraptions for carrying the bundle of willow rods but I felt he would be unwilling to travel to Canada to lend a hand so I had to make do with bungie cords. This enabled me to carry the bundle easily across my back out of the woods. I gathered in all about 180 rods that were approximately 1/2" at the butt end and anywhere up to about 3 1/2 feet long.
As I mentioned, the sap wasn't all the way up yet (the rods were in bud but no leaves yet) so this meant I had to scrape most of the rods rather than peeling them. Here's my tools:
And here's my peeling spot until the rain drove me indoors to the veranda:
It took a long time to get them cleaned off, ie over a period of several days. So I ended up soaking them when I was finally done:
Then I wrapped them in plastic and a blanket to let them sweat overnight:
I used some coloured artificial sinew that I can't seem to find another use for. I'm not sure if it will end up being too stretchy yet or not, but it's what I had available. Because it wouldn't stop raining I had to work indoors for the first part of the lacing. And yes, I did decide on lacing rather than putting holes into the rods and threading them that way. From what I can tell, the Blackfoot style of backrest uses both methods.
I had an extendable shower curtain rod that came in handy while I was working indoors. I just mention that here, not as a recommendation but as a backup plan. I laced two centre rows indoors.
When not working on it I kept it rolled up and tied together tightly.
When the weather cleared some and I was able to move outdoors it was much more pleasant, and so much easier working on the soft ground as opposed to the hard floor. I used 8 wooden stakes to secure the backrest in place. As the two centre rows were already complete, I just staked them down. I measured lengths of sinew about 3X the length of the backrest and tied off one end to a stake at the bottom. With the sinew underneath the willow rods I drew the length up to another stake at the top of the backrest and tied it off there, laying the longer length of sinew across the top.
You can see a little more clearly in this photo how a length of sinew is underneath, then tied to a stake and then placed over top of the rods. The centre two rows are done here and the outside two rows are ready to be laced:
Note that the rods are placed alternately according to width: the thick (butt) ends alternate with the thinner tops. I don't know how else to say that in english so maybe this picture will help explain:
See how the thick and thin ends alternate so you end up with a straighter overall edge.
I laced them together by using a thick crooked needle I had on hand. I threaded the top portion of the sinew onto the needle and then went down and under between each willow, circling around the bottom sinew, like this:
After both sides were laced tightly I cut the ends of the willow to about an inch from the lacing. The backrest now measures about 20 inches across the top and 43 inches across the bottom. In length it is 62 inches.
It's tightly rolled up and drying now. I've alternated rolling it up from the bottom and from the top so it might dry more evenly:
What I have left to do is glue and sew on some black felt I have ready down the edges. I need to fashion some sort of top for it that will be lashed to a tripod. I've not yet harvested those tripod poles yet--it has to stop raining first. I'll post more as I get closer to completing this project.